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Talk26-May-2014: The Hollow Pilgrim

It is done. For better or worse, my first attempt at writing a contemporary action-thriller with speculative-fiction elements in a foreign language is complete. Well, the draft script is. The publisher will look it over and his editor will either throw it back into my face with corrections, or they'll give up on using pulp fantasy authors for contemporary settings altogether. I hope I have spun an entertaining yarn but if I could write a second Roadside Picnic on command, I'd be a god, not an author. The Strugatskys' boots are so huge I can't even reach the top, so we lesser mortals just have to do what we can.

Being a pulp fiction author, violence is never off the table with me. However, one thing I definitely wanted to avoid here was gun porn. Novels set in or close to the universe of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. videogames often read like war fiction rather than adventure stories and they go to great lengths in describing the weaponry being used. I wanted to approach the subject more like an agent novel would. It's a pistol! It's an assault rifle! It's a pump-action shotgun! Which assault rifle? Don't know! Don't care! It makes holes in people! In just one instance have I specifically described the weapon as an old and battered Kalashnikov, since I wanted to convey the idea of a weapon that has been thrown together from parts of other AK-47s that have seen action in African conflicts since the 1950s. 

Another thing I toyed with, and this something which the hardcore genre fans might never forgive me, is the double meaning of "stalker" in our culture.  I won't go into specifics, so read and learn, it's all there in black and white :)

Hmm, I'd better stop my post-completion analysis before I spoil something. However, writing about it, just this little, did wonders for my post-completion angst. At my age you are supposed to be thick-skinned but I don't really take criticism all that well. While shooting down mathematically challenged idiots trying to poke holes in the Praedor RPG rules is at best cathartic, there is no real way to fight someone who says my fiction is "bad". He is describing a subjective experience and is entirely entitled to his opinion of it. There is nothing a sensible author can do about it but take the bruise to his ego and see if something can be learned from it.

My ego just bruises a too easily for my own good.

So, what to do with this sudden increase of spare time? I've been juggling three things. Firstly, there is this idea for a Praedor novel I want to try out. The only problem is that I've never written a novel without a pre-existing publishing contract before. If completed, the Praedor novel would probably end up being published by Burger Games with sales expectations of a few hundred copies. Working with Jalava or some other more established publisher has its perks, especially with regards to distribution.

Second, I want to return to Mars. The Rovers test adventure went on a hiatus because of scheduling troubles and the need to finish the novel. However, I am not done with Mars yet and the very point of doing test games is iteration. The setting intrigues me but I just haven't hit a bullseye with it yet.

Third, Mike wants me to rewrite my Age of Tempest Ropecon-adventure into a format that would enable a brain-dead sea urchin to run it (i.e. the same pre-dictated format used in his game's GM Manual). Frankly, I am a bit torn about this. On one hand, it is a very sensible request since his RPG is intended for n00bs. On the other, I am more of a "throw the n00b into the deep end and see if he swims" -type of guy and hate hand-holding. My way of writing adventures is meant to give the GM ideas on how to approach the described scenario and yet leave him with enough freedom to bring it out in his preferred style while applying whatever changes he deems necessary due to the unspoken strengths and weaknesses of his players. 

In other words, the Old Skool way. Mike is asking me to break with a hallowed tradition.

There is a fourth item on the proverbial table, by the way. I've been thinking about the second edition of Miekkamies a lot and identified a number of paths I could take. The one thing that is still missing is a decision, or rather, an overwhelming inspiration that would finally push me on a path. The game would then grow from there like a rolling snowball. You saw it happen with Rovers. But it hasn't happened with Miekkamies yet.

For some reason, I am not really playing videogames right now. I haven't played anything with any real passion since I dropped Skyrim. To keep up professionally, I've been trying out iOS games of all sorts on my iPad mini and even designed a few myself but... meh. Right now, I just want to create.

Talk21-May-2014: Sorry

Sorry for the gap. I was busy getting the script for Stalker novel finished and finally completed the epilogue on May 10th, at 1.00 am in the morning. Those of you reading my Facebook entries have been treated to statistics, like the word and character counts all through the development. Now that I am editing the bloody thing the word count is going to go down but will probably end up somewhere around 83000. I am personally more interested in the character count. Markku Jalava once told me that a book begins at 150000 characters. Even post-edit, the Stalker novel will have over 450000 characters, which is three times the minimum limit. Of course, none of this has anything to do with the book being any good or not but I love these numbers because it makes me easy to quantify my progress.

I am on the roll, kind of. While I managed to kick my Skyrim habit, I haven't really played anything else since. I want to keep writing instead and once I have the Stalker novel out of the way, I am moving onto a Praedor novel and write out the story that a character created by the young daughter of one of my players inspired. There are no promises and there is no publisher. I suspect Burger Games will be publishing this one. 

Speaking of Praedor, one of the first Praedor fans ever, Erkka Leppänen, collected an anthology of Praedor-themed short stories called Kirotun Maan Kulkijat, published by Osuuskumma. If you know Finnish and like pulp-fantasy, you should seriously get it. 


Just click the image and it'll send you to the store page.

I'd love to chat more about Praedor and especially about my enthusiasm for Verivartio campaign. Unfortunately we are still waiting for the next comic album and until that comes out, anything I could tell you about it is a potential spoiler. So the waiting the continues, even as the campaign, originally intended as playtesting for witchcraft and a new setting focus area, became 2 years old this April. Verivartio will be one of those immemorable mega-campaigns that are the reason I am doing this. The others are Elric, Taiga, Hansa I-III, Murharyhmä I, and Loot'Em, entailing years and years of epic adventure.

While I am stuck in Old Skool Roleplaying (OKR) and proud of it, Old School Renaissance (OSR) is marching on and I am counting Mike's Myrskyn Sankarit into that category as well. He has a crowdfunding project at Indiegogo to have the game translated under the title Age of Tempest. It's a mixed bag and you can find my review of the Finnish language original from here.  Still, kudos to Mike for effort, marketing genius and being the photogenic face of the Finnish RPG writing. Bringing RPGs back into department stores was a huge feat no matter what the game is like.

Encouraged by my experiences with Rovers (which I should continue as soon as I finish editing my book), I made a PDF of the Praedor 1.1. rulebook and tried it out on my new iPad Mini. Works like a charm and while the covers suffered a little in the conversion (some blur), the beef, which is the black-and-white interior, is crisp and readable. I'll be having my iPad around when I run Praedor in the future. It's an non-linked facsimile of the physical book but search functions and quick browsing make it surprisingly nifty to use even now. 

Veteran Praedor fans have been asking for the PDF version to be put on sale and I'd be happy to oblige. However, finding a webstore for a Finnish-language PDF has been surprisingly difficult. It is against the rules to put it up on drivethrurpg or lulu.com. I did try payhip.com but none of the test buyers were able to complete the paypal payment process, so I eventually took it down from there as well. I have emailed their customer service for more information on what to do with the payment systems since my PayPal account is otherwise working fine. They haven't responded and my search for a distribution platform continues. 


Talk10-Apr-2014: Roving With Rovers

The most recent Rovers session. Hmm.

The point of test campaigns is to test things out. Failure is a perfectly acceptable outcome as long as it is acted upon. I had two goals for the adventure; testing the rule system and testing the setting. The result for both is a resounding "meh". Sure, the players seemed to be enjoying themselves but they would, wouldn't they? In any case, they are not what is on trial here.

Rule-wise, the probability curves on the dice are too steep even with explosive dice and I haven't been able to apply the difficulty levels as intuitively as I had planned. It appears that the 5-step difficulty hierarchy isn't working. The jury is still out on profiles vs. skills. They worked great in FLOW but so far, especially with the substitution rule (if you don't have an exact match you can try something close to it with a one die penalty) I am less than impressed with them here. I was well aware that some profiles would be almost universally acceptable as close matches but it didn't seem like such a problem on paper. Now in practise... I don't know.

If that's all vague, what I do know for a fact is that the selection of stats I chose for the game is flat out wrong. I am basically calling for Move, Sense and Mind all the time which begs the question why don't I just have those three stats and then a bunch of loosely defined traits that would add +1 to the stat in question when they apply? Why not indeed? Except that if I am going to toss the current dice mechanic anyway...

The setting is another problem. I just haven't been able to bring it life the way I want to. Somehow I always feel like I don't know enough about it and hence the Otherwere, my ability to conjure lively sceneries on the fly, doesn't really happen. I feel like I'm trying to start a car on a cold winter morning with a run-down battery. So far, I've had three people proposing major changes to the setting, some more forcefully than others. I have a sneaking suspicion that they all were right and I was wrong. My current Mars is a much too barren wasteland and the endless stretches of nothing seep into the mind of the gamemaster, numbing it. Like playing on Arrakis without the worms and the Fremen. The worms would probably liven it up the setting quite a bit.         

Well, I owe it to my players to finish the test adventure with honor. Then they shall depart from Mars and hand the planet back to the Crucible of Creation. It may re-emerge from there one day. 

Talk25-Mar-2014: The Secret Of Life

On the far side of the door it looked as if time had stopped. Although stained with rust or shrouded in dusty cobwebs, everything was the way it had been when the last of the soldiers had left. There were tables laden with yellowed maps and wooden chairs arranged around them by rank and comfort. There were wood-paneled cubicles for clerks with typing machines and field telephones turning grey with dust. He could see a telephone switchboard in the far corner, right next to an old radio transmitter. The headphones were still on the table as if they had been casually dropped there just an hour ago. Up on the wall was a framed picture of Adolf Hitler himself. Somebody had put a bullet hole in the middle of it. Probably a parting gift from somebody when the base had been abandoned after Germany's capitulation.

-Stalker: Hollow Pilgrim

I originally intended to continue this blog on some commercial blogging service such as Blogger. However, I recognized early on how lazy I am and just couldn't be arsed to do the site transition this month, so this html-edited blog will stay up for now. Not that I ever have much of anything to say, really. And that is exactly the problem I have with my Twitter account. I am not interested in 140-character haikus of your life and my own life isn't interesting enough to generate tabloid headlines every few hours. Blogging, roughly once a week, is the best I can do. And there has been a four-week gap in that.  

Well, shit, Spring 2014.

I can't wait until I can start making daily bicycle rides again, perhaps even tomorrow. This year my plan to use freelancing for downshifting seems to be working much better than last year and I am kind of looking forward to it. A year mostly out of the hamster wheel... in our society, who doesn't dream of such a thing? Besides, I have a wall full of Postcards from Death from this winter. I was really sick for close to three months and can still feel the scars whenever I draw breath. And then there was that... that thing they dug out of my skull. Not being able to breathe properly kind of brings mortality home but having your entire skull shake as the surgeon cuts into your upper jaw with a power saw does a pretty good job at it as well.

So, I am going to treat this year like a list of "things to do before I die, with a reasonable budget". So far I have lined up finishing the Stalker novel in April, writing another novel by December, visiting Worldcon and Eurocon in August and Istanbul in October just for the heck of it (okay, Leena goes to the IGF conference while I am pursuing one of my Personal Conan Moments in the Old Constantinople). Also a North Finland tour culminating in Finncon in July is a strong possibility and I keep my options open for visiting York again in June. Last time around North England was absolutely tropical. Maybe this time I can actually go walk the city walls without dropping from heat exhaustion.

That second novel for this year would be an interesting development. I have long had this idea of a long adventure story set in Jaconia and the Verivartio troupe is playing through the main themes right now. However, delays with the next Praedor comic have put releasing any of that on indefinite hold. But recently, I've also had this other nagging Praedor inspiration. The young daughter of one of my Verivartio players made herself a pretty damn excellently thought-out Praedor character and I've been thinking about her story potential ever since then. Then, during one night when coughing and sneezing kept me awake, the whole story came to me, combining straight-up fiction and elements from more than one of the great Praedor roleplaying campaigns I've had. So, a word of warning to my old Praedor players: If I can actually finish it and you end up reading it, having some characters or events feel eerily familiar may not be entirely coincidental.

I've never written anything with an adolescent protagonist. Vanha Koira is way past 50 and Jacob Moncke is clearly past 40. My new protagonist would probably be 13. So, is this youth literature? In Finland, fantasy adventures usually fall into that genre, especially if they have young characters. Well, I wouldn't be aiming for that particular niche but as for family friendliness, I can promise I wouldn't write anything that Edgar Rice Burroughs wouldn't write.

After all, Tarzan of the Apes is in the youth literature section of the library, isn't it?